May 27, 2014

Chesterton's Father Brown and the tragedy of child abuse

This morning I was looking at reviews of an old British classic film, originally titled The Detective, but later changed to Father Brown, starring Alec Guinness The film is based on G.K. Chesterton's classic Father Brown tales. The star of the film, Alec Guinness, claims his experience of working on the film led to his eventual conversion to Catholicism. He provides this moving anecdote in his autobiography about what so impressed him about the role of the ordinary parish priest in a simple French village. Alas, such simple trust has long since vanished from the world, never to be regained,  as have these long ago days of respect and admiration for the Roman Catholic Church itself. This is the fruit of the hierarchy's terrible mismanagement of the sexual abuse crisis. What is needed is a rebirth and a new resurrection of the church in new forms. The old clerical world is dead.  Time to bury the corpse and move on in trust and joy in the Lord. 

Alec Guinness was walking about the French village chosen for the shooting location, dressed in his clerical garb for the role, when this charming encounter occurred.

I hadn't gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, ‘mon pere!’. My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn't dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted. Suddenly with a ‘Bonsoir, mon pere’, and a hurried sideways sort of bow, he disappeared through a hole in a hedge. Continuing my walk I reflected that a church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.

Alas, those prejudices have returned full force in our day and no one can look with such trust at the priest again, despite the presence of many humble, holy servants of the Lord laboring in the vineyard of parish villages. It grieves my aging heart, and one does ache for the terrible loss of innocence. However,  we need to take this as a sign that the nostalgic old days of the clerical caste need to be put firmly behind us, even if the old guard in purple cannot see their way to letting go. Perhaps that is not really their role. It is up to ordinary Catholic folk to lead the way, and the 'leaders' will follow in their cautious, timid fashion. The only dramatic change I could envision at this point in history,  which would begin to restore some confidence once again in the ministry of the church,  is to see women presiding at the altar. Hopefully, these courageous spirit filled women would have the wisdom not to set up another priestly caste of their own. They would certainly give a startlingly new, fresh and creative image to the ministry, one more balanced and healthy than the all male clerical caste, and certainly one more protective of children! Let the mothers be led to the altars. Amen. 

I found this review at Decent Film Guide at IMDB.

May 11, 2014


Good news all around today, for a change.

The US state of Arkansas (Yee Haw!) has approved marriage equality, joining the rising tide of gay marriage states in the US. Opponents are no doubt perplexed and discombobulated by this rising tide, but the movement for equality seems unstoppable. William Lindsey has a very moving account at his blog On Bilgrimage. The reason why this is news is because Arkansas is in the center of the deep deep South, known for it's ultra conservative Christian views, which are not at all welcoming to gay people Au contraire. So it is all a mystery.

Here are some scenes of joy from NBC news:

Its comforting to see so many lesbians rejoicing. We can be sure that many an unwanted child will now find new homes with these stalwart women, so many of whom provide families for mentally and emotionally challenged children. The unwanted ones. I know of one rare lesbian family raising seven such children, each with his or her severe developmental needs.  Each evening the family gathers around the dining room table, a candle is lit, and each member of the family can say whatever is on their mind, their worries, concerns, complaints, their joys and celebrations. On the few occasions I was privileged to join in on these sessions, it has seemed holy and Spirit blessed. A place of joy.

On another note, the Eurovision Song Contest concluded in Amsterdam two nights ago by making transgendered Austrian Conchita Wurst the top winner, an 'event' for equality and fairness if ever there was one. Conchita was clearly the crowd favorite, even though she has had to endure plenty of homophobic slurs since her first entry into the contest. Many of those enraged by her presence are so disconcerted by her beard. "Amazing how people can get so upset by a little facial hair," commented Conchita. The beard, of course, is what is known as a 'mind-fuck,' pardon my French, designed to overturn our "expected norms of gendered beauty." (Thanks to TJ for that clarification.) A friend of mine sent me this very witty holy card of Conchita, which I hope does not offend the memory of the Sacred Heart. Personally, I think it is all too appropriate. Why do I find this appropriate? Because there has always been something so tenderly feminine about the traditional images of the Sacred Heart, and if ever there were a Catholic 'mind-fuck,' it would be this imaging of a transgendered woman as the Divine Heart of Jesus, fully human and fully divine, incarnate in the body of the most despised of despicable gay people. The transgendered must struggle for acceptance right within the gay community itself, many of whose members fear the Trans give the rest of them a bad name. Time for us to embrace the all inclusive, tender, feminine and motherly love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Take a look at Kittredge Cherry's very informative posting on Conchita at her marvelous blog, Jesus in Love, which specializes in presenting truly wonderful and unique artistic expressions of gay spirituality and love in a Christian context. 

May 8, 2014

Pope Francis Speaks Out Against Non Traditional Marriage

This disheartening news will soon be all over the Catholic blog-o-sphere. Speaking to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau, Pope Francis said, 

"it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity," according to the Vatican Information Service.

Already, certain Catholic blogspots are rejoicing and sighing with relief, with comments such as this:

Hear, hear! The Holy Father is so right. But the gay marriage crowd will never get it.

However, the spirited commentary at the Facebook site that hosted this photo shows that plenty of sensible people are speaking up, out, and against the ignorance expressed in the pope's statement, and the rather sinister implication that endorsing gay marriage somehow undermines the rights of children. 

Commentary at the Advocate and other gay sites is predictably angry and sarcastic, ridiculing The Advocate's Choice of Pope Francis as Man of the Year. 

The best commentary I've seen so far comes from New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2 Blog, which tries its best to see the positive behind the negative, namely that while this statement of the Pope's will shock many and while it testifies to his long existing blind spot, it is also noteworthy that unlike his predecessor, he carefully avoids any condemnation of LGBT people themselves and their relationships. While it is not enough, it is a positive first step. 

For my own part, this statement simply highlights the fact that gay people still have a long long way to go before the Catholic Church unbends, unravels and divests itself of  it's homophobic attitudes. The Bondings Blog goes on to say that Francis has shown his willingness to learn. Let us hope he listens to the many voices that will soon come forward critiquing this present statement (and its accompanying statement that abuse victims need to forgive their abusers, rather than asking the abusers themselves to beg forgiveness of their victims. Again. Another shocking blind spot from this evidently good man, who nonetheless is trapped within the presuppositions of the system he serves.) 

Still, all positive spin notwithstanding, one does sigh in one's heart: How long, Lord, how long before this largest of the world's institutional religions shows some genuine sign of love and acceptance of gay people and their God given right to love and marry whom they choose?